“She's so cute, she carries that toy around like it's her puppy.”
“I know, she even growls when I try to take it. So cute!”
“Aww … she's protecting it. If I try to put it away, she sits and cries for her baby. Haha!”
Have you ever caught yourself saying something like this? I made up the above conversation, but I hear similar comments all the time. I’ve even encouraged my own dog to carry a stuffed toy around because I think it’s cute. But that’s the problem. We think it’s cute when really it’s unhealthy for a dog to obsess over a toy.
Dogs know their toys are not real.
When a dog carries her toy around all day, it is most likely because she is obsessive or possessive about the toy. She does not think it is real. She knows it’s not her puppy, unless it's a rare instance where the female dog is having a false pregnancy. Most of the time, though, it's us humans who create emotional attachments to stuffed animals. Dogs know better.
A dog with pent-up energy easily takes that frustration and fixates on a toy or several toys. If the dog is not given exercise, mental challenges or rules on a daily basis, the obsession on the toy grows because she has no other outlet for her energy.
We humans think it’s cute to see our dogs obsess over a toy so we even encourage the behavior. We say things over and over in an excited voice like, “Where’s your puppy?” Or, “Where’s your ball?” And then we overdo the praise and attention. We reward the obsessive behavior without even realizing it.
Obsessing over a toy can lead to aggression.
If your dog growls when you try to take her toy away, it’s not cute. I see owners of small breeds like Chihuahuas encouraging their dogs to growl because they think it’s funny. Encouraging aggressive behavior in a dog is never funny. A five-pound dog can bite someone pretty badly, especially a child who has her face up to the dog.
We think it's cute if a rottweiler carries a stuffed puppy around all day. We like to nurture small, cute things, so we like it when our dogs do the same. We like the idea that our dog has her own “baby.” Many of us carried around stuffed animals as a kid, so it’s heartwarming to us when our dogs do the same.
Even when a rottweiler growls as someone tries to take her toy, it’s easy to overlook the behavior if the dog is gentle in all other situations. The only time my old golden retriever growled at me was when I tried to take her rawhide bone away. Since I knew she would never hurt anyone, I didn’t take her growling too seriously. But even she would snap if I tried to take her bone. This was a behavior I should not have put up with, but I didn't know better at the time.
Of course, just because a dog loves a certain toy doesn't mean she has issues. Just learn what the difference is between a normal dog playing and a dog that is starting to become possessive of the toy.
Signs of possessiveness to watch for:
- The dog growls, bites, barks or snaps when someone tries to take the toy.
- She refuses to give up a toy.
- The dog cries or searches for a toy once it is put away.
- The dog is fixated on the toy.
- She starts fights with other dogs when the toy is in the room.
- The dog intentionally or accidentally snaps at hands to grab the toy before it's been given to her.
- She takes the toy and hides in a corner.
- The dog is very submissive and the toy is the one thing she “controls.”
- The dog is dominant and aggressive around other objects such as food or bones.
Ways to prevent possessiveness:
- Set time limits on when the dog can have the toy, maybe 10 minutes at a time.
- Make sure the dog understands that the toy is yours and you can take it whenever you want.
- Teach your dog the “leave it” command.
- Keep the toy out in the dog’s sight, but don’t let her have it until you say so.
- Don’t encourage obsessive, possessive or aggressive behavior.
- Make sure your dog gets enough exercise.
- Set rules for your dog and follow through.
Is your dog possessive about anything? My dog is obsessed with tennis balls, and he will growl at certain dogs if they try to take a bone from him.
Get That Mutt's newsletter in your inbox: